Dutch pharmacies sell medical marijuana

Graham McKerrow, HIV i-Base

Pharmacies in the Netherlands started selling medical marijuana in September – to people with a doctor’s prescription. More than 2,000 pharmacies are legally obliged to stock the drug and to provide advice on how to use it. They encourage people to make cannabis tea rather than smoke it. The drug is sold in 5g bags and in two strengths and costs 40 euros for the milder version and 50 euros for the stronger version – which is about twice the price charged in Dutch coffee shops.

About 7,000 to 10,000 patients with a variety of conditions including, AIDS, cancer, multiple sclerosis, Tourette’s syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis will be entitled to prescriptions, and for the first time the drug will be covered by health insurance.

Marijuana remains officially prohibited under Dutch law, although the authorities tolerate the sale of small quantities. The Dutch parliament approved the change of policy on medical use by a large majority in 2001. Medical marijuana has been legal in Holland since March this year but pharmacies were given an extra seven months to stock their shelves and educate staff. Medical marijuana growers and pharmacies need licences exempting them from prosecution.

Canada, Germany, Australia and 14 states of the United States allow restricted use of medicinal marijuana and they, as well as Britain where the government is considering a similar move, will be carefully watching the Dutch experience.

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